Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Which Derby Runner Looms as Orb’s Biggest Threat?

There’s two things we need, or would like to see, for Saturday’s Preakness. One is Orb winning, thus keeping the Triple Crown alive. Two, a dry, fast track.

If the latter holds true, then the former might have trouble.

Twenty horses go to Kentucky and maybe five or six travel to Baltimore. This year is no different with Orb, Oxbow, Will Take Charge, Mylute, Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents committing to Black-eyed Susan. That’s a whopping seven, including Orb, and kudos to those trainers, owners and the horses for being ready and taking a chance on short leave. Maybe they looked recent history.

Since 2001, the winner of the Preakness ran in the Derby 10 times in 12 tries. Five of those won the Derby. Only two were Preakness new shooters. From the new shooters’ races, one was Bernardini, where the Derby winner broke down. The other won the Kentucky Oaks (Rachel Alexandra).

If the past 12 years are any indicator, the winner rests in that list of seven horses.

If I had to pick two that can beat Orb, who drew the rail vs. eight Saturday rivals, it would be Itsmyluckyday or Goldencents. I was very high on Goldencents coming into the Derby. I thought he was the fastest given his Santa Anita Derby was three seconds faster than every other horse that won at nine furlongs.

I like him coming into the Preakness for only one reason and you’ll have to watch the Derby replay to catch it. At the quarter pole, Kevin Krigger, Goldencents’ jockey, stood up in the irons and tapped the brakes. Even before this, before the 3/8ths, he stopped shaking Goldencents for more. Krigger stayed low, but wasn’t exactly hustling his horse for more run.

Krigger realized at the quarter pole (probably earlier too thanks to Palace Malice running like he was being chased by the horse cops.), that his horse had no chance to collect a significant check, so he mailed it in.

He was in a nice stalking spot in the first flight, but they were running 1.5 seconds too fast through the half-mile and ¾-mile fractions that he folded like Origami paper. Goldencents had what was, in effect, a very expensive one-mile breeze.

Through the first quarter it looked like the plan was to send Goldencents to the lead, but Krigger ceded that to Palace Malice on the turn.

Itsmyluckyday turned in a wicked four-furlong breeze at Monmouth Park Sunday in 47 1/5, galloping five out in 59 3/5. He had to breeze between the third and fourth race at Monmouth since training hours were closed.

Still, as much as I like these two colts, recent history is not on their sides either. Lookin At Lucky finished sixth in the 2010 Derby and represents the worst Derby-finish-to-Preakness-win since 2001. In 2001, Point Given was fifth in the Derby. In 2011, Shackleford was fourth in the Derby. Every other horse either won (War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and I’ll Have Another) or finished third (Afleet Alex, Curlin).

What are the conclusions? The most likely winner is Orb or Revolutionary.

All right, so the Pletcher Industrial Complex won’t be wheeling back a Derby starter, but his mentor, the D. Industrial Revolution looks to saddle three—Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five. Titletown Five can say one thing none of these other colts can: He beat Orb head-to-head. In a maiden special weight race at Saratoga, Titletown Five finished second to Violence, also beating Orb, who finished third in that race.

Oxbow is right on the fringe, having finished sixth in the Derby. He experienced a rather uneventful trip in Kentucky and could be fresh enough to contend here.

Lastly, based on our metrics, Mylute will be in the mix with this fifth-place effort in the Derby. Rosie Napravnik makes her return to Maryland where she got her start.

Looking at our recent history, the Derby winner is all-too-often in the mix, having won five times and finishing within a head in three other years (Street Sense, Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom) all of which points to Orb going home to Belmont with two flowered garlands.

But, then again, you already knew that.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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